Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Masturbation: Ambiguity Abounds

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,

I realize that this subject is often difficult to discuss, much less be transparently honest and open about with each other. I also recognize the level of discomfort there usually is when discussing such a sensitive topic across the gender divide. The problem is that the rest of the world is already out there and talking about it. They are flaunting their new-found sexual freedoms (due to our sexually saturated society) and masturbation is the one subject which we seem to shy away from and for many reasons. As followers of Jesus, we long to be sexually pure, but sometimes we take it to such an absolutist extreme that we forget our own frailty and set ourselves up for failure. What results is an overwhelming amount of shame, fear, and self-hatred. Brothers and sisters, did Christ not die so that we could be free from those things? Weren't we all at one point or another slaves to those things, sometimes even now struggling to surrender and overcome them? If Christ is truly our savior, then we must throw off the shackles of fear and embrace a new kind liberty which is afforded to us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have written about this subject several times; on occasion I have been too flippant, while other times too harshly spoken. I pray that I do not err on either side of that spectrum. There's is no perfect clarity on the issue, as many cannot seem to agree on the issue of masturbation. I remember reading many an article citing a story in Genesis 38:8-10 as a source of proof that masturbation was a sin. In my own youth group, a young preacher mentored the young men of our group with a quote of Scripture from Matthew 5:30 and for a while I was an adamant believer in this doctrine of zero tolerance for masturbation. Then there was a much heated debate among a community of believers regarding the issue and I was directed to an article from Dr. James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family. In this article Dr. Dobson told the story of how he as a boy was guilt-ridden over the the great temptation to masturbate, but his father simply told him that God did not condemn him for masturbating and the guilt was whisked away like dust in the wind. While this was astonishing to read, coming from such a conservative figurehead like Dr. Dobson; it did very little to alleviate my fears that God would send me straight to Hell for masturbating.

Let us back up for a moment and ask why do people masturbate? Many hardline conservative followers of Jesus would probably answer that masturbation has to do with sexual lust. Unfortunately, they're only partially correct. That is one reason why people masturbate. There are many similar, sometimes dehumanizing trains of thought that basically reduce the human being to animal-like comparisons because of their inclination to masturbate. This is nothing but scare-tactics based on the belief that fear of sin will lead a person to live a life of righteousness. This strategy falls short of understanding that true loyalty and obedience comes from a love of God and His righteousness. Scare-tactics only serve to subdue the youth with shame, fear, and self-hatred while festering a growing bitterness towards those who imposed these scare-tactics on them: "The Church". It is because of this vicious cycle of religious right-wing preachers and pastors who have turned away so many already that I feel compelled to write on the subject of masturbation.

The truth is that masturbation is more than something that is simply gratifying, but also a biological device to release certain chemicals into and out of the body. Looking at the science of our reproductive cycles there is a certain point at which the body releases semen (males) or lubricates the vagina (females). There are mixed opinions in the medical and science communities about why our bodies do this, but there is one strong correlation between masturbation and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). It has been found that those who masturbate have fewer nocturnal emissions than those who do. It has been further theorized that the body expels excess semen or vaginal lubrication through the nocturnal emission process, but those who masturbate would not have an excess of semen/vaginal lubricant. I should point out that one of the last great researchers into the correlation between masturbation and wet dreams had evidence that showed the correlation could be seen but not proven as a cause and effect relationship. For men who have experienced the embarrassment and possible confusion of having a nocturnal emission and waking up to the mess of it can see how the idea of having fewer of them through masturbation is nearly incentive enough. Women are lucky because vaginal lubrication during a nocturnal emission can occur and go unnoticed. Another reason is that masturbation is a natural means of stress relief, however I would like to point out that sex experts and therapists are beginning to agree that this is not necessarily a healthy practice and can damage your sexual health later on in life.

But what about those Scriptures you quoted above which had you so adamantly convinced masturbation was sin?

Yes, yes, well those Scriptures had a very young boy scared senseless. That boy couldn't think critically about his own choice to have Cheerios or toast for breakfast. Let's look at those Scriptures together, shall we? The first is Genesis 38:8-10 which tells a brief story of how Onan had sex with his brother's wife after the brother had died. What's the big deal here? The big deal is that Onan was supposed to have sex with his brother's wife so that she could have a son, but Onan enjoyed having sex with his brother's wife and instead would let his semen drop to the ground so that she would not get pregnant and he could continue to have sex with her. Preachers and pastors have tried to twist this story to their fundamentalist view that masturbation is Devil's play and that God will strike you dead if you do it. What Onan did was disobedient and adulterous in God's eyes. He abused a duty of his tradition in order to get cheap thrills out of his dead brother's wife. A far cry from condemning masturbation when looked at in this light.

The next Scripture mentioned was that of Matthew 5:30 in which Christ says that if our hand offends us (or "causes us to stumble") that we should cut it off. Now, in case it needs saying, there are many other things our hands can do that are evil; stealing, killing, blaspheming, and cursing just to name a few. Folks, trust your hardline conservative pastors and preachers to be on the "God kills those who masturbate!" bandwagon if for no other reason than to scare your vulnerable and insecure adolescent self into trying to abstain from masturbating. It's no use arguing with them the merits of masturbation, or to even suggest that it can be anything other than a sexually gratifying act. You can try, but when you find yourself arguing with someone who invokes God's authority you will find yourself fighting an uphill battle that is better left un-fought.

I'm almost done folks, now others still will point to lust as being the source of need for masturbation. To this I say, yes, but only in part. While masturbation definitely can follow from lust, it does not always follow from lust. If one masturbates out of an erotic desire for someone, we are trying to bring to fruition a fantasy of someone else with ourselves. This is lustful and is in fact sinful, rather the most base use of masturbation. If, however we can contextualize masturbation as a biological device for non-sexual purposes, then we can properly apply its use outside a lustful context. Too wordy? If you've got a fever for some young guy or gal you know and you're imagining yourself in some romantic encounter with them and that fuels your masturbatory experience, then your masturbatory experience is based on lust. But let's say you have fantasies about your future spouse, not anyone in particular; that is not a "lustful fantasy" per se.

Finally, I would like to say that if you don't masturbate and don't have any need for it then great. I don't want people to read this and think that I'm encouraging people to do it if they have no need for it. However, if you're like many who simply do but live in fear and shame of God's wrath then I ask you to consider whether you are a victim of scare-tactics or if there is some legitimacy to what is being said about your habits. You should not live in fear of condemnation or Hell simply because you masturbate. You should take care to learn what is healthy and what isn't, as well as what is and isn't lustful, but beyond that there is no shame in it. If you masturbate because you feel a compulsion to, there are many things that could be happening to you which you should consult a proper physician or licensed therapist about, but aside from that masturbation should not be something we shy away from in honest discussion and private practice.

If you've survived to the end of this and want to learn more about proper technique for masturbation that will not damage your sexual experience with your future spouse, then I suggest you read on here: Healthy Strokes. For the most part, this guy has very level-headed advice about the subject, but you should read what is there with a grain of salt. Note that this is a secular source and some of his advice is not in line with the few guidelines I've provided, and to my sisters I caution you about internal masturbation.

Sincerely yours in the name of our Lord Jesus,
James

P.S. - If you have questions, concerns, or comments which you do not feel you want published for the whole world to see you are free to e-mail me: vladimirsokolovresurrected AT gmail.com (remove AT and replace it with the @ symbol).

3 comments:

  1. When it comes down to it Biblically there does seem to be nothing wrong with it as long as you are not commiting "adultery in your heart", e.g. lusting after someone. If one can do that then it is a release. There are situations where one could simply be thinking about work, sports, or even the Bible while doing it. However, there have been very few that could do this.
    If one does abstain for long enough it will lesson. Especially as they get older and the sex drive decreases.

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  2. Another thing that, possibly, needs to be considered when mentioning lust, is that some consider masturbation to be sex with the self.
    As we're told that sex is to be only between a married couple, then it's wrong from this point. Just a thought, take it or leave it as you will.

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  3. In response to the notion that masturbation is sex with one-self, well, I can't say much if one reads what I have said and still insists that masturbation is what you have described. I'm familiar with the notion, and yes I realize you're not saying you believe this yourself, but I discounted it as one of those similar de-humanizing trains of thought. Oddly, I find the whole thing a bit absurd as if one were suggesting I do a three-legged race by myself; just how is that a three-legged race? The act is by definition exclusive from sex.

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